Published in the journal Oncogene, researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have found a gene that assists in the spread of cancer within the body. By blocking the gene, they think, the progression of cancer might be slowed and eventually stopped. The gene was identified as WWP2 (WW domain-containing protein 2), an enzyme blocker that may be found within cancer cells. WWP2 attacks and reduces a natural protein that usually stops the spread of cancer cells. This protein known as Smad7, checks the function of cells and can naturally inhibit dysfunctional cells like cancer cells. When the researchers of UEA blocked WWP2, the levels of the protein (Smad7) were increased and the cancer cells stopped multiplying. Conversely, when tissue cultures were grown without Smad7, the cancer cells spread and multiplied quite quickly.
This discovery helps in our understanding of the metastasis of cancer and hopefully new drugs can be created that block the gene, WWP2. If such a drug could deactivate WWP2, traditional therapies such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgeries could be employed to remove cancerous tumors. And if WWP2 could continue to be deactivated, the chance of the cancer cells spreading to other parts of the body may be reduced. Cancer becomes much more serious when the cells spread or metastasize to other regions of the body, as seen in the instance of breast cancers spreading to the spine, hips, and knees.
Andrew Chantry, department of Biological Sciences at UEA, said the discovery may lead to the introduction of a whole new era of medication over the following decade that may be utilized to halt the progression of many types of cancers, including breast, brain, colon and melanoma.
Now, the challenge becomes to recognize a potent drug that gets inside cancer cells and destroys the activity of the WWP2 gene. This process may be difficult although not impossible, as the researchers use the information gained in the current study to facilitate potential drug therapy strategies.
The study was funded by the UK-based charity the Association of International Cancer Research (AICR), with support by the Big C Charity and the British Skin Foundation.